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Ivo Grbić: First impressions of Jan Oblak’s replacement

The Croatian goalkeeper might yet start in goals against Real Madrid after Jan Oblak’s injury.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid: Group B - UEFA Champions League Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Ivo Grbić sat on the bench 49 times for Atlético Madrid across two seasons without as much as getting to tap his studs on the goalpost. Just once did he get to feel the ball in live action — a 3-0 win over CD Cardassar in the 2021 Copa del Rey.

But a recent Jan Oblak muscle injury meant Grbić was catapulted into the team. He played five minutes against Real Sociedad and he has since played full 90s against Celta Vigo and Bayer Leverkusen.

It’s not a massive body of work, but with Simeone’s number 1 still struggling to shake off a groin injury, Grbić could play again on Sunday in the biggest test of his career — against eternal rivals Real Madrid.

So what is there to say about Grbić after a few appearances?

His passing follows Oblak’s pattern of zero-risk. Most of his passes out from the back are long and in the area of Álvaro Morata as Atlético try to win the second ball and attack from there.

Atlético’s stodgy backline doesn’t help when it comes to building out from the back so Simeone prefers to just go long. Mario Hermoso looked decidedly shaky against Celta Vigo before settling into the game but reverted to making crippling mistakes in midweek. Felipe also played against Bayer Leverkusen, who just love to press and speed up decision-making.

When Grbić does go short, he prefers to go to the left centre-back, which has just happened to be Hermoso in the games he has played in. One of Hermoso’s strengths is his passing and he can pick out a pass. But more often than not, Grbić is opting to go long.

Stats courtesy of Stats Perform.

Grbic’s shot-stopping

One of Jan Oblak’s greatest skills is his shot-stopping, and while it hasn’t been at its best in the last year or so, he is still capable of mind-boggling saves. It looks to have improved this season after a fairly disastrous spell last year.

It is unrealistic that a backup would be as good as one of the world’s best, but Grbić hasn’t looked entirely out of place since coming into the team.

The Croatia international has faced eight shots during his time in goals and conceded three, but Atlético have consistently given up good chances now for quite some time.

Stats courtesy of Stats Perform.

Grbić’s positioning has been questionable for two of the goals scored against him. The first against Celta Vigo might have been unlucky. It looks like Hermoso has it covered and Gabri Veiga hits it exceptionally well. It sneaks under Grbić’s left foot inside the near post.

The second one is more questionable. Robert Andrich is 77% right-footed, according to StatsBomb via FBRef. So, we can be 77% sure he is hitting this with his right. Maybe Grbić is right to assume he will bend it around his left. It looks like Felipe is betting on this too by covering that area.

The problem is Andrich can see that Grbić is cheating to his left and there’s a massive gap to his right. Axel Witsel potentially needs to do better to see the danger and make an effort to block it too, but Grbić’s positioning is not ideal.

Jeremie Frimpong came on and caused all sorts of problems so just before this goal, Grbić might have been concerned that the winger would cut straight to the endline against Hermoso.

The eight shots Grbić has faced possibly double if he plays Sunday night against Real Madrid and he will have to improve his positioning and awareness given how lethal Vinícius has been. Even without Karim Benzema, Rodrygo Goes could shine too. The passing is a function of Simeone’s tactics and it should be another case of launching the ball whenever it gets to his feet.